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Football: How Ragin' Cajuns offensive tackle Max Mitchell became 'a beast' after leaving Neville

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, August 13, 2021

NEW ORLEANS – When Max Mitchell left Monroe and arrived at UL in 2018, being in the position he’s in now was far from his mind.

And it's not just that he's playing right tackle for the No. 23-ranked Ragin’ Cajuns.

Rather it's Mitchell becoming a prominent team leader, representing UL at the Sun Belt Conference’s recent football media day in New Orleans and heading into his third straight season as a full-time starter.

UL has won back-to-back bowl games and gone 20-4 with Mitchell as a starter.

“This is all been one big blessing for me,” Mitchell said, “and I’m just along for the ride and I’m just doing my part to keep rolling.”

UL offer was best  

Ranked by 247Sports as Louisiana’s No. 124 recruit and the nation’s No. 244 offensive tackle, Mitchell wasn’t heavily recruited coming out of Neville High.

“Max was a late bloomer,” UL coach Billy Napier said. “I think he weighed about 240 in the spring of his junior year, then he really kind of gained weight and physically matured in his senior year.”

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Mitchell had scholarship offers from Division II programs Arkansas-Monticello and Ouchita Baptist. He had interest from FCS member Northwestern State, but that was it as far as Division I offers — other than UL.

“Out of high school I didn’t really see much,” Mitchell said.

“Lafayette was by far the best offer I had,” he added with a laugh, “so I took it.”

Rob Sale saw something

Mitchell was recruited by ex-Cajuns offensive line coach/offensive coordinator Rob Sale, another Neville product.

Sale was Napier’s first hire late in 2017. The former LSU offensive lineman has coached offensive lines at McNeese, Georgia, UL Monroe and Arizona State.

Now the New York Giants’ offensive line coach, he saw something in Mitchell other FBS coaches didn’t.

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“Whenever he came in, Coach Sale … was like, ‘We’re gonna have a freshman playing this year,’ ” UL’s starting left guard Ken Marks said.

Marks, now a seventh-year senior, was skeptical.

“Whenever we looked at Max, we didn’t think that,” he said. “Max was like this clumsy guy that just looked like the goofy-look guy.

“But when he got in Coach Sale drilled him, and he got to fall camp, it was like, ‘Oh, he can actually play.’ … And it just spun, I guess.”

Mitchell 'an animal'

Now 6-foot-6 and 305 pounds, Mitchell weighed about 270 upon arrival.

He played right away, rotating in as a freshman and eventually splitting tackle reps with Rico Robinson next to Marks.

As a sophomore, Mitchell started each game for an 11-3 team that finished sixth nationally in rushing yards per game in 2019.

Last year, he played a lot at right tackle. But he also played some on the left when needed, and saw time at guard, too.

By season’s end, Max Mitchell was a second team All-Sun Belt selection after the Cajuns had gained 2,601 rushing yards, mostly from San Francisco 49ers draft choice Elijah Mitchell — who is not related to Mitchell — and Las Vegas Raiders undrafted signee Trey Ragas.

On Thursday Mitchell was named to the Senior Bowl watch list.

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“His play speaks for it,” Napier said. “He’ll play at the next level.”

How did he get to there from a guy hardly anyone wanted?

“He’s worked hard in the weight room, he’s worked hard at nutrition,“ Napier said.

“Max is an animal,” Marks added. “He’s a beast. Weight room, football, knowledge, everything.”

It’s all about his roots, Mitchell suggested.

“The program that I came from, Neville, built a helluva work ethic out of me, and so did my dad (John),” he said, “and I just took that and transferred it to trying to be the best I could and win.”